Monday, July 18, 2016

first impressions: north east arnhem land

After a mere 10 hours driving from Katherine, 700 kms of the drive on red dirt avoiding pot holes, sandy bogs and jagged rock we arrived in Arnhem Land.

For 11 years I've been hearing about Arnhem Land and Peter's Yolgnu family who live here.

Finally we are here together with our own children.

Pete is working with a Yolngu Grandmother here who takes care of her community through a healing program, taking young at-risk Yolngu out to homelands for support and healing.

We are based in Nhulunbuy the mining town set up here on the Gove Peninsula in the late 60's when Rio Tinto started mining bauxite for aluminium.

From Nhulunbuy we go out bush with Pete for him to do his work.

The coastline and landscape is postcard perfect except when the mine and refinery come into view, the mined red earth and the imposing refinery buildings and silos look like something out of a sci fi film dropped from the sky.

It is hard to fathom what it must have been like here in the 60's before the mine arrived and even harder to imagine what it must have been like when Rio Tinto made their mining 'deal' with the Traditional Owners of this land.

I don't even feel like I am in Australia anymore. It is a place of its own here.

We are remote in many senses.

Food comes in on a barge from Darwin once a week. Once the supermarket runs out of something for the week that's it. I was told on one of my first visits to the shops "Sorry, no bananas until next week".

But then there's Nature's 'supermarket' where real food is plentiful if you know where to look and how to catch it.

On our first trip out bush we ate the most spectacular mud crab, speared in the mangroves by a Yolgnu friend and cooked on the beach by his mother. "From the mangrove, to the fire, to your mouth," she said laughing as she handed Sol and I a crab claw to share.

There was no sense of time that day on the beach until the sun started to set, "We need to get back to camp before its dark, so they can collect gapu (water) from the creek" our Grandmother friend said looking up the beach for her son and husband who had gone fishing with River and Pete.

As dusk settled around us on the beach I began to worry about baru (crocodile). I looked up the beach nervously hoping to see the hunters walking back. I noticed Grandmother and her daughter-in-law did not take their eyes off the sandy point in the distance where the men had gone hunting, they too seemed to be willing them to walk back into view soon.

Within minutes we could see them walking back towards us. No fish today. We were happy and grateful for the crab. Grandmother gave the other crab claw to Peter and River to share and divided the body of the crab up for her and her husband, her son and daughter-in-law.


I shared this story on my facebook page, it has been one of my favorite moments of the trip so far...

We went to meet Nandi Beth, Pete's Yolgnu mum. Nandi is the Yolgnu word for mother. Nandi Beth was spending a few days in hospital, nothing serious so we went to the hospital to meet her. Her delight and joy at seeing River and Sol for the first time was so lovely. She hugged them to her and smiled from her heart, then stood back and looked at the boys, "I get depressed when I come to hospital. Now you've made me happy". In the car when we left Sol said, "We look different but we have the same feelings. Grandmothers love to see grandchildren." They sure do. It was such an experience of universal love.


There are challenges here. Divisions. Politics. Corruption.

There are wonders here. Songlines. Dreaming. Artistry. Family. Ceremony.

I hope you'll stick around to hear more.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments. I read every one!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...